If your stained wood front door is looking old and weathered, or you want to change the color of the stain, you can refinish it yourself with a few tools and several hours of work.
You will need a step stool, screwdriver, painter's tape, drop cloth or old newspaper, sandpaper, stain in the color of your choice, and spar urethane for exterior applications. A powered palm sander is suggested.
You can remove your front door off the hinges to refinish it, however most people find it easier and less time consuming to stain it in place.
Check Depth of Wood Veneer
You do not want to sand a front door that has been refinished many times because the veneer layer (the thin layer of pretty wood on top of cheap ugly wood) is very thin and you might sand too much off and ruin the door.
Standing on a step stool with the front door open, look at the top of your front door to see the layers of wood.
If you have a home that is very old, you might have a solid wood door, which is ideal. If your home is not very old, you will most likely see stripes of wood showing the thickness of the wood veneer on the 4 sides of your door.
If the wood veneer stripe is very thin, do not sand the door because you could ruin it. If you have at least 1/8" of wood veneer, you should be able to sand your door. If this is the first time the door is being refinished, you should have about 1/4" of wood veneer.
Before sanding your wood front door, you will need to remove the door handle hardware. Keep the hinges attached if you are refinishing your door without removing it. If you have a kick plate, remove that also.
Most door handles and lock sets need only a screwdriver to remove them.
If you are concerned about remembering how they attach, take several photos or a video of them as they are removed to help when putting them back together.
You may want to put all of the small pieces in a baggie so they don't get lost.
Using a power sander or manual sandpaper, sand your door following the grain of the wood. Do not sand in the opposite direction of the grain, else it may show grooves.
If your door is in poor condition or it has a heavy layer of urethane, you will need to sand for a very long time.
80 grit sandpaper is suggested, however you might want to resort to a 60 grit if the urethane is very thick not coming off easily. Be very careful using 60 grit sandpaper because it can easily create grooves and take off too much wood veneer if you sand in the same place too long.
You might require 5 sheets of 80 grit sandpaper to remove the urethane, then an additional 5 sheets of 120 grit sandpaper to smooth everything out.
Change your sandpaper regularly as it becomes less effective.
You must remove all of the urethane, else the stain will not penetrate the wood on your front door.
This is the most time consuming step, so take your time and do it right.
In order for the stain to look perfect, you need to remove all dust and dirt.
Use a tack cloth or any rag to remove all specs of dust.
Once you are finished cleaning, inspect it again to make sure you removed every little spec.
You should use painter's tape to tape your hinges and the bottom of your door.
You can tape your hinges and the area around the hinges, then use an exacto knife to cut the excess tape off precisely.
Put a drop cloth or old newspaper under your door to catch any drips that may occur.
Using the stain of your choice in the color of your choice, apply the stain to your wood front door.
Most stains require you to wipe on, then immediately wipe off, however you should follow the directions listed on your particular stain.
Most stain will get gummy and not look good unless the excess is wiped off soon after it is applied. If this happens, you will have to start the sanding process over again once it is completely dry.
You can apply stain using a brush, however many people prefer to use an old rag. If you do not want to clean your brush, you can use a foam brush, however have plenty on hand since they tend to tear and break.
Rubber or vinyl gloves are suggested since this step can get messy.
Since your front door will need to remain open while the stain dries, ensure that you will have a pleasant outdoor temperature and no rain before starting this project. Also, consider that someone will most likely need to be home during the entire dry time so the door does not need to be closed.
Depending on the color you desire, you may only need one coat or multiple coats of stain. Make sure to let each coat of stain dry per the stain manufacturer's recommendations before adding another coat of stain or a protectant.
To protect your newly stained front door, you should cover it with a protectant. Spar urethane is suggested in a satin or gloss finish of your choice. Make sure your urethane is approved for exterior use.
You will most likely need 2 or 3 coats of urethane, so ensure that the weather will be pleasant and allow time for your front door to remain open the entire dry time that is required.
You can apply the urethane using a high quality brush or a foam brush than can be thrown away. If using a foam brush, use a new brush for each coat.
Once the spar urethane is completely dry, reattach your door hardware to your beautiful newly restained front door.